Blaine R. Young: Housing stability could be legacy of this board of commissioners -- Gazette.Net


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In December 2010, a new Frederick Board of Commissioners took office in Winchester Hall. I stated at the time, and continue to believe today, that 2010 was the first election in memory that was not mostly about growth and development.

Growth of our economy and tax base is the primary concern now for people struggling in this economy. For the construction industry, which probably has been hurt the most the last few years, the best medicine would be predictability and stability in the housing market and the local economy.

Since that election, and thanks to what I perceive as serious overreaching by Gov. Martin O’Malley administration in Annapolis, growth has become more of a statewide issue than ever.

With PlanMaryland, the septic bill, the “rain tax” and other statewide growth control initiatives, the state is steadily, and likely permanently, inserting itself into growth issues that were once the province of local governments.

This is a step backward for transparency and local involvement in land use decisions; but as long as the liberal Democrats remain in control in Annapolis, we will continue to see policies designed to stop growth in the rural counties and force more of us to live in already congested urban areas.

During the 2010 campaign, four of us who ran together as a slate — Paul Smith, Billy Shreve, Kirby Delauter, and I — made our position on growth in Frederick County very clear. On Sept. 26, 2010, we released our “manifesto” on growth and development.

In an op-ed piece published by The Frederick News-Post, we made it crystal clear that we were not running on a platform to open up broad new expanses of land for development.

We went so far as to state that we had very little quarrel with the comprehensive plan then in effect, which was approved by the Jan Gardner, Kai Hagen, John “Lennie” Thompson Jr. and David Gray board, and which called for 1,500 homes to be built per year.

Our concern, as we expressed in that piece and throughout the campaign, was the unfair singling out of a handful of property owners for downzoning and thereby potential financial ruin.

We have kept out word. In the recently completed comprehensive plan, we did take action to restore property rights that had been stolen from some of our fellow citizens. I will stand by these decisions to the day I die.

But we did not, as some suggest, open up broad new growth areas for future residential development. The large developments that are now being processed through the county are in growth areas that were established by the Gardner-led board of commissioners, and other boards prior to it.

The fact that developments are being approved does not — as certain “friends” would have you believe — mean that thousands of new homes are going to sprout overnight. The homes will be built when the market dictates they can be sold, and in areas long planned for residential development.

And what we are seeing now with applications for development projects in the county is something which will actually work to take politics out of land use in Frederick County for the foreseeable future. The use of the Developer Rights and Responsibilities Agreement, or DRRA, is a land-use tool that has been authorized by the General Assembly. What this means is that a project, when approved, can get a certain amount of assurance that it won’t be changed as a result of future elections.

The result of the DRRAs should be that the growth areas long established for future development will now be more permanently defined, and will not be subject to alteration at the whim of newly elected politicians seeking to please a narrow constituency.

It should also mean that there will be far less reason for future boards to consider expanding growth areas, as there will be — in actuality now — a true “pipeline” of new homes, that will be a real pipeline and not the fanciful pipeline touted by our “friends.”

Again, any government can approve any number of homes with the stroke of a pen. However, to transition from the pen to the shovel is an entirely different matter. That will not occur until the economy improves and presents the appropriate market conditions.

When that happens, thanks to entrepreneurs now investing and taking risk in our county, consumers will have significant choice as to where they want to live, and with competition among builders for customers, should also come price competition.

The old rules of supply and demand may actually apply once again to the housing market in Frederick County, when developers have certainty as to the number of homes they can build, and the market is not overly impacted by the restrictive policies of government.

At its peak, more than 2,500 new homes were being built per year in Frederick County. The last few years have been closer to 600 to 700. This year, the county is on pace to built around 800. It likely will be a long time before we have another building boom.

The board is moving up school construction projects and being as aggressive as any board in the history of Frederick County with school construction and renovations projects. Several schools sites have already been acquired, and additional funds from development are allowing the board to be even more aggressive with dealing with capacity issues in Frederick County as redistricting is not in the controls of the commissioners. This board has been adamant that development must contribute mightily to school and road construction, and significant monetary contributions have been and will continue to be required of new projects.

However, what we should have is some stability and certainty in the housing market for years to come, and if that is a lasting legacy of the current board of commissioners, that will be just fine.

@$:Young is president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, and lives in Monrovia.